A long way from Paris

BANGALORE IS ABOUT 4800 miles from Paris (France). The French capital is noted for its gourmet delights, but on the whole the same cannot be said for Bangalore. One exception to this statement is Sunny’s restaurant currently located on Lavelle Road.

Arjun Sajnani created Sunny’s at least 25 years ago. Then, it was in a tall narrow house on a lane leading off Lavelle Road. The kitchen was on the ground floor and there were dining areas in the two floors above it. Often, Arjuna could be standing, working in the kitchen. Back in those early days, Sunny’s was one of Bangalore’s few suppliers of imported Western European cheeses, such as genuine parmesan.

Later, Sunny’s shifted to larger premises on the corner of Lavelle and Vittal Mallya Roads, next to a petrol filling station. The dining area was elegant.

For a brief period, Arjun ran a restaurant serving delicious Sindhi dishes in his original premises. Sadly, he decided to discontinue this interesting eatery.

Even later, Arjun shifted his restaurant to its present location – a two storey villa constructed about 20 years ago. The balconies on the upper floor are supported by stout carved timber pillars which remind one of pillars that you can see in much older traditional South Indian edifices. Diners can sit at tables within the building, or in the garden surrounding it, or on the first floor balconies. At lunchtime on Christmas Day 2022, every table was occupied.

At each of Sunny’s different locations, the food has been magnificent. As our daughter correctly said, eating at Sunny’s is as good as eating in a good Parisian restaurant. Also, Sunny’s Italian food (mainly pasta and pizzas) is above average in quality.

Arjun is an actor and director of theater and films, in addition to being a restaurateur. Dramatic productions require many skills. The same is the case for running a restaurant. Some of the required skills are the same for restaurants and for stage/screen. A restaurateur has to perform well both in the kitchen and the dining room to satisfy his or her clientele. Arjun achieves this successfully. If you have never been to Sunny’s, give it a try!

Everything is available …

EVERY FEW MINUTES, a ferry traverses Goa’s Mandovi River between Panjim and the village of Betim. This free river crossing is for the use of pedestrians and those riding two-wheelers. The ferryboat is loaded via an elevatable ramp.

As soon as the ramp touches the concrete landing stage, a wave of pedestrians and motorbikes surge from the boat onto the shore. As they do so, the waiting pedestrians and vehicles swarm on to the ferry.

On arrival at Betim, we walked away from the landing place along a busy country road lined with shops, shacks, and much tropical vegetation. It was not long before we reached the small restaurant set back from the road, which had been recommended to us.

Although it was nearly noon, the eatery seemed rather lifeless. Eventually, we saw a man emerging from it. He showed us a menu. We asked him if all the dishes were available. He replied:
“Everything is available.”
After a pause, he added:
“Today kitchen is closed.”

Retreating from the pandemic misery

FOR SEVERAL MONTHS following March 2020, movement was restricted to within a short distance of home because of rules that were supposed to limit the spread of covid19 infections. Almost everything except food stores was closed. Socialising was frowned upon. And travel for leisure was not possible. Around about June 2020, things eased up just a little bit, and travelling became possible once more, albeit subject to various rules and precautionary measures. It was then we decided to buy a car to travel around without risking infection by using public transport.

After collecting our (pre-loved) car from a garage on the Edgware Road, we decided to drive up to see my wife’s cousin in Baldock (Hertfordshire). We asked him to recommend a nice country pub where we might be able to get something for lunch. He suggested that we tried Ashwell, which is about 4 miles northwest of Baldock. This pretty village has three pubs. Two of these were closed, and the remaining one did not serve food. We asked the rather melancholic barman to suggest somewhere else in the area. He pointed at the pub’s only customer, a gentleman seated at a table, and said:
“You could try his place at Abington Piggotts – it’s only just up the road.”
The man, Mick, told us that his pub was open and serving food. So, we drove a few miles to tiny Abington Piggotts, which is 3 ½ miles northeast of Royston. With about 80 households, the village has one pub, a free house called The Pig and Abbot. Housed in a century’s old building, this hostelry is a lovely example of an unspoilt country pub. We were given a warm welcome. We enjoyed a small snack and a drink and decided to return at a later date for a proper meal.

We returned and enjoyed excellently cooked food prepared by Mick’s wife Pat. It was so good that we began returning at regular intervals to enjoy Pat’s cooking. The Pig and Abbot, like all other pubs and restaurants, was subject to compulsory closures during the various ‘lockdowns’ that were imposed by the government, yet it has remained in business despite these interruptions. I am not sure how many times we have visited the Pig and Abbot, but each time has been as least as enjoyable as the others. It was not long before we began regarding Mick and Pat as good friends. Whenever we visit the pub, Pat gives us all a great hug when she sees us. Especially during the periods when lockdown restrictions were only partly eased, a visit to the Pig and Abbot provided a welcome respite from the gloomy atmosphere during the height of the pandemic. Whenever we drive along the country lanes leading to Abington Piggott, I have a warm feeling of gratitude because it was this countryside that lightened our lives during two years of covid-related misery.

Recently, we booked for Sunday lunch at the pub. Several days before we were due to eat at the pub, Pat rang. At first, we thought she was going to cancel us for some reason, but it was worse than that. She rang to tell us that Mick had died suddenly and completely unexpectedly. We felt devastated by this news. When we asked her whether she wanted us to cancel, she said ‘definitely not’. She had decided she must continue, and she wanted to see us. When we arrived for our lunch, the pub was full, Pat greeted us warmly, and her food was as excellent as usual. We will greatly miss Mick, and we wish Pat all the very best for the future.

A Turkish delight in London’s Dalston

KINGSLAND ROAD AND nearby in London’s Dalston area is rich in restaurants and other eateries serving Turkish food. Early in this century, “Time Out” magazine rated the Mangal Ocakbasi (now called ‘Mangal 1’) restaurant at number 10 Arcola Street as being one of London’s best Turkish restaurants. For those who do not know, ‘ocakbasi’ means ‘fireside’ and ‘mangal’ means ‘barbecue’ or ‘grill’. When we first went to Mangal, and for many years after that, there were tables alongside the long rectangular pit filled hot charcoal, upon which meat and vegetables are grilled. Recently, the restaurant has been redesigned and the grilling area is no longer alongside the tables.

Lokma

The meat served is top quality. It seems far better than that served in the many other Turkish restaurants we have tried in London. Although there is a wide variety of main courses on offer, the range of ‘starter’ dishes on the menu is not as great as at some other restaurants. If it is starters and meze that you are after, the nearby Umut 2000 (on Crossway) is worth visiting. However, their main meat dishes are not nearly as tasty as those at Mangal in Arcola Street. Having said that, Mangal does serve an excellent freshly grilled aubergine hors d’oeuvre. Desserts are not available, but there are plenty of places along Kingsland Road offering a wide range of very sweet but tasty confectionery.

Our favourite dishes at Mangal are lokma, which is grilled rolled fillet of lamb, and yorgutlu Adana, which is pieces of semi-spicy Adana kebab in a yogurt and tomato sauce with lumps of Turkish bread. The lokma and other kebab dishes are served with generous quantities of fresh mixed salad containing many ingredients. As for drinks, you can bring your own alcohol or buy it from the restaurant. If I order a drink apart from water, I always go for Şalgam, which is a purple-coloured drink containing fermented turnip. This has a deliciously sour taste.

We first ate at Mangal in the early 2000s, when we attended a play in which one of my dental patients was acting. The theatre, The Arcola, was across the road from the restaurant, but has now shifted to larger premises on nearby Ashwin Street (close to Dalston Junction station). We loved the food at Mangal from the very first bite. We have been eating there occasionally ever since then, and the quality of the food has never once faltered. We have been there so often that the older members of its staff recognise us, welcome us warmly, and remember what we like eating. Even though this Turkish delight, frequently patronised by the artists Gilbert and George, is far from where we live in Kensington, it is well worth ‘trekking’ across London to get there.

Eating there again at least 50 years later in Venice

EARLY IN SEPTEMBER (2022), I was eating spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) in a restaurant in Venice (Italy). The place where I was eating this delicious dish has many memories for me.

Lantern hanging outside the entrance to the Antica Locanda Montin

During the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, my parents took my sister and me for annual holidays in Venice. My parents were discerning eaters. Unfortunately, back in those now far-off times, there were very few restaurants in Venice which served food that met my parents’ approval.  Eventually, they homed in on one place that they liked enough to return there for every evening meal (our accommodation provided lunch as part of our demi-pension deal). That restaurant is called the Antica Locanda Montin (‘the Montin’). According to its website, it has hosted celebrities including Modigliani, Ezra Pound, Robert de Niro, Luigi Nono, and David Bowie. Well, I did not know that when I used to dine there with my family.

During our recent trip to Venice, we found out that the Montin is still in business, and we booked a table for lunch. To my delight and amazement, the restaurant looks exactly as it did when I last visited it over 50 years ago. It does not seem to have changed one little bit. The front of the Montin faces a small canal. The dining room is long and rectangular. At the far end opposite the front door, a rear door gives access to a pleasant garden, where people can eat in good weather. The walls of the dining room are covered with framed paintings, many of them of great artistic quality. Apparently, they have been donated over the years by artists, who have dined in the restaurant.

I cannot remember what I used to eat at the Montin over 50 years ago. However, my spaghetti alle vongole was tasty and enjoyable. My wife and our daughter were also happy with what they ate. Our lunch was one of the better meals we ate during our four days in Venice. What I enjoyed even more than the food was discovering that the Montin looks as it did when I was much younger. I am glad that the place has survived the trying times we have been through recently and Italy’s various economic crises.

Macchiavelli and spicy masala meat dishes

RAAVI KEBAB BEGAN serving Pakistani and Punjabi food in the mid-1970s. It is located on Drummond Street, close to London’s Euston Station. This unpretentious eatery with barely any internal decoration except some mirrors with Koranic verses engraved on them in Urdu script, is next door to the Diwana Bhel Poori House. It was at the latter that we used to enjoy Indian vegetarian dishes when we were undergraduate students at nearby University College London during the first years of the 1970s. In those days, Raavi, named after the river that flows through the now Pakistani city of Lahore, did not yet exist. It was only in the early 1990s that a friend visiting from Bombay suggested that we ate with him at Raavi’s. When the grilled kebabs arrived at our table, it was love at first bite. We have been returning to Raavi’s ever since.

Raavi’s with Diwana in the backround

Yesterday (1st of September 2022), we made yet another visit to Raavi’s. As we sat down, I noticed a thick wad of photocopies held together with a bulldog clip. They were resting on top of a neatly folded shawl. Out of curiosity, I looked at the top sheet, which was a page copied from a book with annotations added in red ink. I looked more carefully and noticed that the printed text was in Italian. The page was headed “<De ingratitudine> Joanni Folci Niccolaus Maclavellus”. It is a chapter (‘The ingratitude of Joanni Folci’) from a book by Niccolò Machiavelli (aka Maclavellus), who lived from 1469 to 1527. The rest of the text on the photocopied page appeared to be a learned commentary on Macchiavelli’s chapter.

I do not know why, but I felt that Raavi’s was the last place I would expect to find scholarly papers lying about so casually. I associate the place, as do most of its many customers, with grilled meat and spicy masalas. I asked the waiter about the papers. He shrugged his shoulders and said that someone must have left them behind after eating, and that he had no idea whether anyone would return to retrieve them.

From Peter Pan to Skanderbeg and some fake windows

BETWEEN LANCASTER GATE and Queensway, at the corner of Bayswater Road and Leinster Terrace, there stands number 100 Bayswater Road, which was built in 1820 and was the home of the author JM Barrie (1860-1937) from 1900 onwards. It was here close to Hyde Park that he wrote “Peter Pan” as a play in 1904 and as a novel in 1911. It is worth wandering along Leinster Terrace and its continuation Leinster Gardens.

Almost opposite Barrie’s home but a little north of it is number 74 Leinster Terrace. It was here that the American author Francis Bret Harte (1836-1902) lived and died. He had settled in London in 1885. Northwest of this house and on the south corner of the Terrace and a passageway called Craven Hill Gardens, there is a Greek restaurant that has long intrigued me. It is called Mykonos and has the Swedish words “Kalle på Spången” written on it in several prominent places. This is the name of a well-known Swedish film made in 1939, in which a character called Kalle owns and runs a pub. Formerly called Zorba’s, it was closed in 2017 because of hygiene problems. Now (2022) called Mykonos, it looks as if it is no longer in business. It also bears a sign with the name of a Swedish County, Skåne, in which the inn that figures in the film was located. Unless it was to attract Swedish tourists, I am not clear why this Greek restaurant associated itself with a Swedish film. North of the restaurant, Leinster Terrace becomes Leinster Gardens.

Real windows on the left and fake windows on the right

Much of the west side of Leinster Gardens is lined by Victorian terraced housing with neo-classical features.  Close examination of numbers 23 and 24 reveals that unlike their neighbours on either side, the windows do not have glass panes. Where the windowpanes should be, there are painted blanks. These two houses in the terrace were demolished when the subterranean London Underground lines were being built in the 1860s. The façades of numbers 23 and 24 have no building behind them. They hide a ventilation shaft that provides air to a section of the Circle and District lines running between Bayswater and Paddington stations. By walking along Craven Hill Gardens west to Porchester Terrace, which runs parallel to Leinster Gardens, you can see the featureless rear of the fake façade and beneath it you can just about see the tracks of the railway.

Moving north along Porchester Terrace, you can see number 30, which is adorned with a sculpted lion and some lion heads. It was here that the family of the author Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) moved from Hampstead in 1830, when he was six years old. Collins’s father, William Collins (1788-1847) was a painter, whose paintings at one time exceeded those of John Constable in value. Another artist, John Linell (1792-1882), a friend of William, lived a few doors north of this at number 36 from 1830 until 1851. Many years later, this house was occupied by the photographer Camille Silvy (1834-1910) between 1859 until 1868.

Not far away from Porchester Terrace and close to Queensway, a sculpted bust of a man in a distinctive helmet stands on a plinth at the corner of Inverness Terrace and Porchester Gardens. This depicts Albania’s most highly regarded hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg (1405-1468), who defended his native Albanian territory from the invading Ottoman armies for a few years.

Between Peter Pan’s birthplace and the monument to Albania’s national hero is a few feet more than one third of a mile on foot. Yet in this short distance, there is much to see. This is what makes London such a fascinating place in which to live.

Burgers on the Strand

THE BYRON RESTAURANT chain, which specialises in serving burgers, has a branch next to the Adelphi Theatre on London’s Strand. I have not eaten there but I did peer through its street door. What I saw is quite amazing. The ground floor dining room’s walls have giant mirrors separated by marble pilasters. The ceiling beams look like marble , although it is unlikely that they are made of that material. The grand dining room has a decadent fin-de-siècle appearance, providing your eyes are averted from the banquettes upholstered with red leather, or perhaps plastic, which are quite appropriate for a burger joint.

The large façade of the restaurant has pink granite pillars on both sides. On one of these, there is a commemorative plaque that reads:

“Site of the Adelphi Theatre Restaurant owned by the Swiss-Italian Gatti family, restaurateurs, music hall, theatre and electricity supply entrepreneurs. Sir John Gatti served as Lord Mayor of Westminster, 1911-12.”

The Adelphi Theatre is still in business, but its neighbour, the Adelphi Theatre Restaurant, is now the Byron outlet.  Carlo Agostino Gatti (1841-1897) and his brother Stefano Gatti (1844-1906), father of Sir John, ran the Adelphi Theatre, the Adelphi Theatre Restaurant and the Vaudeville Theatre all in the Strand (www.londonremembers.com/subjects/gatti-family). Carlo and Stefano came from Ticino Canton in Switzerland. Another Gatti, Gaspare Antonio Pietro Gatti, known as ‘Luigi’, came to London from Montalto Pavese in Italy, where he was born in 1875. He is supposed to have managed the restaurant at The Ritz Hotel, as well its concessions on two ships, one of which was the ill-fated Titanic. Whether Luigi was related to the brothers is uncertain.

What is also uncertain in my mind is whether the dining room that now serves as home to Byron and its burgers is the original that existed when the Gatti family owned the restaurant or whether it is from a later era. The upper storeys of the building were recently converted into luxury flats, whose interiors can be viewed on websites such as https://www.businessinsider.com/pictures-london-gatti-house-millionaire-flats-on-the-strand-with-pizza-lift-2015-10?r=US&IR=T .

So, next time you are wandering along the Strand, take a peek into Byron’s and, maybe, if you are feeling peckish …

Boy meets girl: dining in Bradford

BRADFORD IN YORKSHIRE is a vibrant multi-ethnic city. Many of its inhabitants have their roots in the Indian subcontinent. We found that many of these people with subcontinental ancestry regard themselves as neither Pakistani nor Indian, but Kashmiri.

International restaurant in Bradford

When we first visited Bradford a few years ago, we were itching to try the local restaurants serving what is generally called “Indian food”, regardless of whether it has been cooked by an Indian, or a Pakistani, or a Bangladeshi, or even a Kashmiri. As we drove from the station to our hotel in a taxi, we asked the driver, who was of Kashmiri descent, where he thought we would get good Indian food. He recommended ‘X’ in Bradford and ‘Y’ in nearby Shipley. A couple of other people, of whom we asked the same question, both recommended X. With three different recommendations for X, we decided to book it for that evening.

When I phoned the restaurant, a lady answered. I asked to book a table for two. Then, she asked:

“Is it two males or a male and a female?”

Puzzled, I replied:

“A male and a female.”

When we reached the restaurant, we were given a nice table. We had arrived at X with high expectations and good appetites. It was a pleasant restaurant with obliging staff. However, we were served one of the worst meals I have ever eaten in a restaurant serving Indian food. After this experience, we did not try another ‘Indian’ restaurant in Bradford.

During that unsatisfactory meal, the head waiter or manager came up to our table to ask if all was well. Politely, we replied that it was, but my Indian wife, who had seen ladies entering the restaurant but disappearing up a flight of stairs, remarked:

“I have noticed that apart from those little girls with their father, I am the only woman in this room. It does not bother me, but it is a bit strange.”

The head waiter looked perturbed and said:

“Sorry, so very sorry. You should not have been given a table in here. I was not aware of your arrival. Had I greeted you, I would not have seated you in here. It is reserved for men, and sometimes they can get rowdy. Can I move you to another table?”

We said that we were happy where we were. After the man left, we wondered how it was possible that men could get rowdy in a halal restaurant that clearly did not serve alcohol. At the end of the meal, we noticed that there was another section of the restaurant where men and women could dine together, a sort of ‘family room’. We also noticed that groups of women unaccompanied by men were directed to another part of the restaurant on the floor above. While the food at X was memorably poor, the experience was far from dull.

Recently, in September 2021, we revisited Bradford. There, we met our Polish host. Remembering our unfortunate experience at X, we thought it would be fun to try something different, a Polish restaurant perhaps. We asked Pavel if he could recommend one. To which he replied:

“There used to be a Polish restaurant here, but it’s closed. Anyway, I don’t like Polish food. You should eat curry here. Try the International. It’s just around the corner and gets good reviews on Tripadvisor.”

In view of our previous ‘Indian’ meal in Bradford, we entered the bustling International with some trepidation. When the food arrived, our fears evaporated rapidly. We were served some of the best ‘Indian’ food we have ever eaten in the UK. The portions were enormous, and we noticed that at every other table, diners were taking home the remains of their meals in packages. We also noticed that at almost every table, diners had ordered chips (French fries) with their ‘Indian’ dishes. The restaurant’s owner, the son of its founder who opened it 50 years ago, told us that in Bradford:

“These young people eat chips, pizzas, and burgers all the time; sometimes they don’t even eat curry.”

We asked him whether the International was an Indian or a Pakistani restaurant. He told us that it is the latter, but he and most of his staff are Kashmiri.

Tandoori king prawns at the International

We enjoyed the International so much that we returned there for dinner on the following day. Once again, we enjoyed first class food served in huge portions. Thinking of the tandoori king prawns and lamb chops makes my mouth water as I write this piece.

On both occasions, we sat at tables on the ground floor. On the second evening, our table was next to a staircase leading to an upper floor, which we were told was used for parties. Both waiters bearing trays loaded with dishes of food and also customers continuously dashed up and down the stairs. At one point in the evening, a group of heavily bearded Asian men dressed in loose fitting robes, Pathan suits or similar, began ascending the stairs. One of them looked down at us, an Asian and European dining together, and we saw him smile and then heard him say:

“Boy meets girl.”

Dining in a church

A FRIEND INVITED us to dine one evening at the exclusive Mosimann’s Club in West Halkin Street in London’s elegant Belgravia district. As it was dark when we arrived and I was too busy chatting with our host, I failed to notice the exterior of the establishment. Years later, I noticed that the narrow façade of this fancy eatery, named ‘The Belfry’, is that of a Victorian gothic church with a slender spire.

The church was being used by the Presbyterians in 1866, so wrote Edward Walford in the 1880s. The website of The London Metropolitan Archives catalogue reveals more:

“…a chapel was built on Lower George Street, called the Ranelagh Chapel. In 1845, on the death of the Methodist minister, the church joined the English Presbyterian Church and was renamed Ranelagh Presbyterian Church. The lease on the Lower George Street chapel expired in 1866 and the church merged with a Presbyterian Mission in West Halkin Street, Belgrave Square. The name Belgrave Presbyterian Church was adopted. The church was rebuilt in 1881. In 1923 the church moved to premises in Emperor’s Gate, Kensington.”

The former church is an unusual structure in that the end facing the entrance is considerably wider than the façade. As to when it was originally built, I am uncertain. Nikolaus Pevsner, the architectural historian, does not give it a mention in his extremely detailed guide to the buildings of the City of Westminster in which it is located. However, he does mention the chapel’s neighbour, to the left of it as you face the façade. Far more attractive than the chapel is the façade of its neighbour which is decorated in a neoclassical style. It has two porticos supported by pillars with Doric capitals. This building was built in about 1830.

Today, the Doric pillars flank entrances to a branch of Waitrose food stores. This shop also has an entrance on the street parallel to West Halkin Street, Motcombe Street. Thus, two temples of food stand side by side. If you cannot afford to dine in the former church, then you can console yourself and appease your appetite by acquiring something edible in Waitrose by stepping between the Doric pillars. In case you are wondering what we ate at Mosimann’s, I am afraid I cannot recall as it was so long ago, but I do remember enjoying it.